Welcome to the third installment of “Remember the Lakers.” In this issue we will be talking about the 1949-50 season. The ups and downs, the play style, the players acquired and traded, and our views on the whole season overall. Thanks in advance for reading and feel free to check out the previous issues as well. This episode is dedicated to John Kundla who passed away July 23, 2017 at the age of 101.
The 1949-50 Minneapolis Lakers would find themselves in the middle again of a new league. The remaining six teams from the defunct NBL would join the BAA. Now with 17 teams, the BAA would change their name to what we now know as the NBA.
The Lakers would have a tremendous draft in the summer of 1949, drafting the likes of Slater Martin and Vern Mikkelson, both future Hall of Famers. They fit nicely into the starting lineup and were pretty unstoppable at home. The newly formed NBA had split into three divisions with the Lakers in the Central division.
As in years prior, the offseason was brought many changes.
Many players left the team and many joined.
Mike Bloom left halfway through the prior season to play for the Chicago Stags.
Jack Dwan left after his debut season and retired from professional basketball.
Donnie Forman, Earl Gardner, Johnny Jorgenson, Whitey Kachan, Don Smith, and Jack Tingle all retired after the 1948-49 season.
Ray Ellefson went to the non-NBA team of New York Celtics.
Norman “Normie” Glick, Bob Harrison, Slater Martin, and Vern Mikkelsen debuted with the Minneapolis Lakers
Bud Grant was drafted in the 1949 NBA Draft and made his debut on Christmas Day of that year.
Billy Hassett debuted in November of 1949 after already playing with the Tri-Cities Blackhawks that year. Gene Stump arrived midway through the season also.
Paul Walther arrived during the season, but also left early, only playing 22 games total.
IN GAME FACTS AND STATS
The Lakers had a formidable front court with Mikan, Mikkelsen and Pollard.
Coach John Kundla sort of by accident created the modern day team, being the initial coach to display a small and power forward. He also started the rotation of players we know today. The offense was not complicated. Many of the plays involved a pick and roll with Mikan and Pollard. If defenses didn’t switch, there would be an open lane to the basket for Pollard. The Minneapolis Auditorium was oddly shaped and made the court narrower than a standard court, which made the team more dominant defensively. Can you say home court advantage? It worked, as they were 33- 1 at home and 18-16 on the road.
The Lakers (51-17) would tie the Rochester Royals for the division title, but the Syracuse Nationals had the best record at 51-13. The difference in games played is due to Syracuse and the Western division teams only being scheduled for 64 games rather than the standard 68 at the time. Those teams were brought in from the NBL. The Lakers also had to play an extra game to determine the division and beat the Royals 78-76. Mikan would average 27.4 ppg and 41% from the floor. Mikan and Pollard were first team all NBA.
On the way to the NBA Championship, the Lakers battled the Chicago Stags to a 2-0 series win. Fort Wayne was another casualty of the Lakers 2-0 and the Anderson Packers would go down shortly thereafter 2-1. The first actual NBA Finals would be a true test for the team. The Syracuse Nationals who had come from the NBL had something to prove. They had home court in the finals so the Lakers would start on the road.
Game one was very close. The Nationals led in the closing minutes until future Minnesota Vikings head coach Bud Grant hit a hook shot to tie the game for the Lakers. The Nationals had an opportunity to win, but Mikan blocked a shot to get the ball back. Tiger Harrison, a rookie, ran the length of the floor and hit a shot to give the Lakers the win. The Nationals evened the series in a cigar smoke filled arena in game two. Coach Kundla mistakenly told the papers that Mikan was allergic to smoke and the Nationals fans made sure to use that information to the fullest.
The Lakers won games three and four, with the Nationals winning game five. Game six would be a fight, literally. The Nationals would hold down Pollard, but Mikan poured in 40.
Game Six was marred by several fights. Syracuse’s Paul Seymour and the Lakers’ Pollard got into it, Gabor toed it up with Slater Martin and again with Don Carlson. A Nationals player was ejected and the officials fouled out four Lakers in the fourth quarter . The Lakers would go on to win their fourth straight championship by a score of 110-95.
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The Minneapolis Lakers showed the NBA that they were the team to beat again. Coach Kundla’s pick and roll offense worked well and they used it to perfection. Mikan was unstoppable with his teammates and it showed as they made their way to another championship. – Bryan Diffendal
Another great season accomplished from the Minneapolis Lakers leaving them with an even better roster, even better win to loss ratio, even better management, and seeing them land the top spot in the central division. Kundla, Mikan and “the boys” were clearly on a roll that wasn’t to stop for a few good years. – Joshua Scanlan-Wilson
And with that, we come to the end of the third issue of “Remember the Lakers.” Thanks for reading, and be sure to check back for the next episode!
Joshua Scanlan-Wilson (@jscanlanwilson Twitter/Instagram)
Bryan Diffendal (@BravesLiferInKS Twitter)